In the last couple of weeks, a very belated article by a female journalist made its rounds and resulted in a huge (and somehow insane) discussion about sexism and politics and sexism in everyday-routines and twitter and hashtags and male and female celebrities saying weird stuff about behaving like a gentleman because apparently that’s the direct opposite to a sexist – who knew.
Obviously, I am way behind the topic as I haven’t picked it up as fast as the twitter-gals with their “Aufschrei”-hashtags who used that to describe everyday sexism in a conveniently short tweet because we all know that gender-issues are simplistic enough to fit into 150 letters. Oh Koni, what have you done…
The case: Roughly a year ago, a female journalist, who was on a tour with a German male (!!!!!!) politician met him late at night at the hotel bar and he made some flirtatious comments about er boobs and other things. She told him that it was quite inappropriate but he apparently kept on flirting a little too long for her liking. Fast forward a year later and she writes about it.
In a movie, that would be done with in a second, just the caption “A Year Later” and the media-outrage over the article, the politician’s career ruined and everyone heating up, heads bashing over whether this is a case of everyday-sexism or harmless flirting that feminists shouldn’t drag into something nasty. In reality, it also led a lot of people to believe that it was a calculated move to ruin the politician’s career. No one knows the truth, so this is a nice little topic for a class-discussion on your latest social media-class that will go nowhere because this is a typical jury-thing, where your own opinion is more important than the actual truth.
It reminded me of a case when a female writer was in a hotel elevator (apparently, hotels are the modern back alleys) together with a colleague of a weekend seminar. It was very late at night, they were alone in the elevator and he asked her if she would like have a coffee and sadly didn’t let go after she denied. She wrote about it a few days later and didn’t name that person, nor really accused him, she merely said that she felt slightly uncomfortable because late at night, alone in an elevator with a guy who was looming over her and was sexually interested made her feel like a victim, whether she wanted it or not. She ended her entry with saying that it would be nice if men would be more aware of a situation like this and that sometimes it’s a very harmless situation for a guy who is only flirting but a completely different situation for a woman who might or might not have had previous negative experiences. This is important you guys (and gals) because context is everything and ignorance can’t be an excuse for everything, sometimes it would be nice if people would take a step back and consider, ‘hey, breathing down this woman’s neck in an elevator and asking her to have sexy time might feel a little rapey, there!’
It’s a tough issue.
In the case of the German journalist: her experience indeed seemed a lot less threatening and – if we assume that she didn’t jokingly say that he was inappropriate but was in fact serious about it – was rather frustrating as it is for many women if they get treated with less respect than their male counterparts. I’ve heard many people say that it shouldn’t be forbidden to flirt and sure, I concur. I work as a music journalist and do quite a few interviews with bands and musicians and sure, sometimes it gets a little flirty (as flirty, as geeks can get) but there are never really sexual comments, no one comments on my boobs (as the politician did), no one kisses my hand (as the politician did) and I never had to say “I am sorry, but I am a journalist, we better stop this” (as the journalist had to). Let’s just assume that everything happened as the journalist says it did – it was inappropriate and unprofessional. ‘But it was late at night in a bar, what did she expect?’ quite a few people argued over this. Sure, but meeting any guy in a bar, I wouldn’t really want him to comment on my boobs or try to kiss my hand (oh, how romantic) out of thin air. This might be cute in an alternate universe where every woman is being played by Katherine Heigl but in this world, it’s inappropriate, whether it’s being done by a politician or a random other dude and a bar should not be an open invitation for anyone to be rude and vulgar. Just because it usually is, doesn’t mean that it’s ok and people, that’s one of the issues feminists take with this situation. Just because it was A-Ok for decades to pick up women in bars with poetical lines like “Hey, wanna fuck?” doesn’t mean that it should be accepted as A-Ok. Let’s now and then revise our habits and see whether they maybe need some alteration.
It’s so charming the way that ‘No’ means ‘please have sex with me’ in this little soundtrack for cutesy harassment.
Oh, and to even the playing field – here’s the gender bender version.
I think, the case itself is a little unfortunate. It’s a weird decision to write about it after a year, it’s even weirder that the journalist continued to work with the politician. However, there are not enough details to know whether it was a calculating move on her part or whether she was simply afraid to talk about it till now (because that is a just as likely situation as the calculating-journalist-one). The world is a dirty and cynical place, so we could blame both parties and be right and wrong at the same time as long as we don’t know what really happened (where were the teens with their smartphones to record everything? Probably beating up a homeless and recording it in a hotel elevator, I bet).
HOWEVER, the discussion surrounding this in Germany is interesting. Do women overreact and turn everything into an “Aufschrei” for their own gain? It reminds me a little of the shockingly high coverage of fake rape-accusations that statistically are not as high as many might suggest. This is very disturbing and should not be treated lighlty. “Women can ruin a man’s reputation by a single accusation” a German female blogger wrote and maybe she is right but let’s be honest here, how often does that really happen opposed to the many many times that women don’t say anything because they are scared that people will think that they are dirty whore-liars that only want to ruin that man’s life because they are conniving bitches?
Seriously, though, I have no idea, there are no statistics on how many German female journalists dealt with sexism and haven’t written about it. There is a statistic on how many wrote about it, and that seems to be: 1.
She surely made it all up or even worse, is responsible because this cutesy little politician should be allowed to flirt now and then, right? He couldn’t help it, she was simply too pretty, too booby and too female. Oh, there you go. Poor guys, can’t help themselves and their sexual urges, guys, I know that you are actually quite capable of controlling yourself, so you should be just as angry when people ask women to please be a bit more considerate, when a man behaves like a pig because of his penis.
Do I think that you can turn a compliment into a sexual harassment claim? Sure. But “You can fill a dirndl with your breasts” is not really a compliment in the classic sense and it is all about context. These two had a professional relationship as far as we know. They weren’t friends or lovers, so even if they were in a bar – where you apparently turn from a professional colleague into a friend or lover, as soon as you enter it – there was no excuse for him to say what he said.
Oh, and another argument that I love about all this – this is great, you guys – ‘Now, this journalist ruined everything for all other journalists because no male politician will ever want to talk alone with a female journalist ever again!’ Yeah, how dare a woman write about a sexist experience, how dare she talk about it openly, so it might be discussed, because all men will be scared that their sexual urges cannot be controlled and therefore avoid every single female journalist for she will either talk about their sexual approaches or worse, make something up to drag the pure men into the mud.
You know when this American football coach got accused of raping several of his minors? There were actually people blaming the media for ruining the football-team’s reputation and success, yes, there were actually people that rather have it, that no one ever would have talked about it, so their precious, apparently clean world wouldn’t change. Look, I hate change as much as everyone else but if male politicians are so scared to talk to female reporters because they might write about their sexist remarks and actions, then maybe we shouldn’t blame the female reporters but ask the male politicians why they should be scared of that in the first place.
Things like this are so frustrating, especially reading articles that claim that we shouldn’t bother with such trivial occurrences when there are actual feminist issues to be addressed. Here is my opinion on that: As long as trivial things like a male politician commenting on the breasts of a female journalist are deemed “trivial”, we really should bother because that’s how major issues creep their way into society. We start with the trivialization of calling a woman “bitch” in a rap song then we call her that in everyday life and then we treat her like one. If we trivialize someone openly staring at a woman’s breasts then commenting on them, it might be not such a big step, until grabbing them is also a trivial problem.
Oh, and for German readers, of course, there are enough great people who have smart things to say about it as well, first and foremost Muriel on “Überschaubare Relevanz”. So if this rant wasn’t long enough, head over to his rant and the (as usual) great comment-section.